Wildfire season sets record for days on high alert


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 5, 2021

In 2021, the United States Forest Service saw more days on the highest level of wildfire preparedness consecutively than ever before.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore spoke to the United States House of Representatives subcommittee on Sept. 29 regarding the increasing intensity and of wildfires. Moore said the fires are getting harder to control, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. Wildfires started in January across the western United States and they continue to burn into October. Millions of acres have burned as fewer firefighters fight the flames, according to Moore.

In June 2021, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued air quality alerts due to winds from the West Coast changing the air quality in some Midwestern states. Iowa saw poor air quality on various days throughout the summer because of the wildfires throughout the west. Wildfires are also worsening by scaling mountains and reaching higher elevations than in previous years. According to The New York Times, 50 percent of these fires in 2021 were started by lightning. The other half were traced back to a variety of human-made causes, including power lines and cars.

Moore said these wildfires are milder than in past years based on a couple of metrics, but with fewer firefighters they become tougher to fight. The 2021 season did, however, start earlier than normal.

OSHA Announced New Federal Workplace Heat Checks


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Josie Taylor | October 4, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Sept. 24 announced that they will establish a federal workplace heat standard. They will hold heat inspections and enforce rules that protect workers from heat related hazards. 

In 2020, 882 emergency visits were caused by heat-related illnesses. Of those 882 patients, 44 were hospitalized. 

Heat-related illnesses and stresses can affect both workers who work outside and indoors. This is because of issues like lack of air conditioning or fans in some workplaces. 

An investigation by Politico and E&E News found that federal workplace safety officials have refused to set a workplace heat standard across nine presidential administrations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first recommended OSHA write heat-specific protections in 1975.

This problem is going to get worse as climate change raises temperatures, especially in the summer. This past July was the warmest month on record.  A study recently published found that children born today will likely experience, on average, seven times as many heat waves as their grandparents. 

OHSA said area directors will begin prioritizing inspections of heat-related complaints, referrals and employer-reported illnesses, and initiate onsite investigations where possible.

Iowa farmers to see carbon capture pipeline


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 20, 2021

Some Iowa landowners recently received notification that a new carbon capture pipeline wants to stretch across their land.

Summit Carbon Solutions, a company that looks to decrease greenhouse gas emissions through the permanent storage of carbon dioxide, intends to build a 710-mile pipeline. According to The Des Moines Register, the pipeline would cross 30 counties within Iowa. The company is headquartered in Ames, Iowa. The pipeline intends to capture emitted carbon dioxide in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.

The pipeline would compress the gas into liquid form and would be the longest-ranging carbon sequestration pipeline. The plan would push the liquefied carbon emissions and transport them to North Dakota to permanently sequester them a mile underground. The pipeline would transport these chemicals nearly 2,000 miles.

The process of carbon-capture pipelines has issues, like leaking issues that can cause individuals near the pipeline to get sick. Iowa farmers are also concerned about the impact the pipeline could have on Midwestern soil. Some Iowans are also questioning the effectiveness of a pipeline like Summit’s to capture emissions.

WHO sets tougher regulations for air quality


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 28, 2021

The World Health Organization set new standards for air quality guidelines for the next 15 years on Sept. 22.

The standards are set for policymakers across the world to lower pollutants that impact air quality. According to the Associated Press, more research and monitoring has cleared up previous questions regarding the impacts pollutants have on the health of human beings and animals. The United Nations health agency said 90 percent of the global population currently live in environments with at least one harmful type of pollutant.

Pollution of the air is concerning to global health advocates, as it becomes comparable to smoking tobacco. The guidelines are not legally binding, and they ask policy makers to focus on reducing the concentrations of six pollutant. The concerning pollutants include two types of particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

Some of the guidelines also encourage individuals to do their part to improve air quality by changing their behaviors through reducing use of plastics and using public transportation instead of driving cars. Air pollution is decreasing in several countries and has over the past few years, especially in Europe and North America. The change of guidelines could see improvements across many other continents.

Joe Biden has a New Goal of Cutting Down Methane Emissions


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Josie Taylor | September 27, 2021

The United States and European Union are working on a pledge to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, President Joe Biden announced on Sept. 17, 2021. He urged countries around the world to join before the U.N. climate summit later this year. 

Cutting out methane would be beneficial for both slowing climate change and for the health of every citizen. There is less methane in the atmosphere than there is carbon dioxide, however it is a much more potent greenhouse gas when it comes to warming the planet. Methane also causes unhealthy air pollution. 

Methane emissions have been going up very quickly recently, and research shows they need to drop by almost half by 2030 to meet the Paris climate agreement goals. This means that the entire world needs to cut methane emissions. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but it also contributes to surface ozone, which is a toxic air pollutant. Reducing methane improves air quality, while reducing the effects of climate change. Another benefit is that the results are almost immediate. 

Sierra Club sues Iowa DNR over proposed cattle feedlot


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 24, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is being sued by the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The lawsuit regards the 11,600-head cattle feedlot that was approved by the department. The building is set to be built in Clayton County. Prior to its approval, the feedlot received harsh criticism from various environmental groups. According to The Des Moines Register, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club is arguing that the feedlot used a skewed nutrient management plan to receive approval from the Iowa DNR. The plan, they allege, uses incorrect information.

Supreme Beef LCC, the group behind the project, received approval on the 11,600 cattle-lot feedlot in April 2021. The lawsuit alleges that the company underestimated how much nitrogen and phosphorus that is needed by the facility would need annually.

The Sierra Club alongside other environmental groups opposed the project since its initial proposal in 2020 due to the land being an environmentally sensitive area. The project also initially included plans to hire developers to generate a plan to capture the methane from the plant. Those plans were scrapped.

Biden doubles down on climate change aid promises


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 22, 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to double aid aimed at helping lower income countries address climate change at a United Nations General Assembly meeting on Tuesday.

Previously, Biden pledged $5.7 billion to these countries. This pledged funding, and any additional money, will have to receive congressional approval, according to The New York Times. This new pledge would ask congress to approve more than $11 million.

Smaller countries have recently pointed out that countries with bigger economies have not delivered the billions in aid they’re promised through the United Nation and its agreements. In 2015, when the Paris climate accord was initially signed, more than $100 billion in annual aid was promised to less developed countries. Most of this aid has not been given by larger countries, including the U.S.

If the funding is passed, it would make the U.S. one of the largest climate donors in the world. Some environmental advocacy groups, however, don’t think Biden’s vow is enough funding.

Climate change is one of the most important subjects at the 2021 General Assembly meeting, garnering attention from several UN members. Biden’s initial pledge was made in April. Both funding goals have a deadline of 2024.

Event on Climate and Infrastructure


Via CGRER

Thursday, September 23, at 5 p.m. the College of Engineering in partnership with CGRER and the CASE colloquium series presents a series of 4 webinars by world-renowned scientists who will explain the latest scientific findings, discuss measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change, adaptation to the effects on extreme weather, and natural systems, and ideas on engineering infrastructure for resilience in the face of change.

The first webinar will be presented by two leading researchers on climate and environment from the college of engineering at U Iowa, Prof. Greg Carmichael and Prof. Jerry Schnoor. The topic for the first webinar is:

“Climate science report AR6: what the IPPC’s latest climate report says about the changing climate, extreme weather and impacts on natural and engineered systems”

The zoom link for the event can be found here.

Cedar Rapids will Unveil a New Climate Action Plan


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Josie Taylor | September 20, 2021

The city of Cedar Rapids is hosting an event Tuesday to unveil a community climate action plan. City staff, Community Climate Advisory Committee members and community organizations who are seen as leaders in sustainability will attend the event, according to the city. 

The plan, which will be unveiled at Cedar Rapids Public Library, aims to lead the city toward reducing carbon emissions. They will begin transitioning to mostly or entirely renewable energy by 2050, and the city hopes this will better the health of the residences as well. 

The Community Climate Advisory Committee and city staff worked with Cedar Rapids to center equity in drafting the plan. They did this through its survey outreach and in-person meetings to address and understand how climate change disproportionately burdens some residents based on their socioeconomic status, access to transportation and language barriers.

The plan will set strategies such as funding, partnerships and programs in order to reach long-term climate goals. 

The council will consider approving the draft plan and making it final at its Sept. 28 meeting.

Iowa City Roots for Trees program looks to plant more trees


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 17, 2021

After a successful first year, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation department’s Root for Trees program opened this week with the goal of planting more trees than ever before.

The Root for Trees Discount Program started as a part of the City’s Climate Action Plan. The project started with the goal to expand the Iowa City’s tree canopy and diversity. The program broke records last year by planting 400 trees.

The program began again on September 15 and runs until May 2022. To participate, Iowa City residents can redeem vouchers to use at a local tree nursery at a reduced cost. The vouchers work on 19 different types of trees. Once the tree is planted on the voucher user’s property, they are responsible for the care and maintenance of the tree. The voucher cuts the cost of purchasing a tree significantly. Since the voucher is based on income, residents will receive from 50 to 90 percent off at $250 tree.

According to The Daily Iowan, 360 vouchers were redeemed last year. Program facilitators are looking to have even more success in 2021. Applications to obtain a voucher are currently open to residents currently. The City of Iowa City’s Parks and Recreation department also has a guide where voucher users can learn what type of tree is best for their property prior to purchasing and planting.